French rhymes differ from English language rhymes in many ways. The subtle complexities of the language make creating poetry in French both a challenge and a delight.
Basic elements of French verse include the syllable count, rhythm, stanza form, and rhyme. Of these four elements, French rhymes may be the easiest entrée point for students into the world of French poetry and verse.
English rhymes tend to follow simple, similar patterns. Rhymes may be homophones (two words that sound alike, such as night and knight) or contain other rhymes (such as cat and mat). Rhymes such as night and knight and flour and flower are considered weak, unsophisticated rhymes in English.
In French, however, these so-called identical rhymes are quite acceptable. An example would be a homophonic rhyme in French of doigt (finger) and doit (debit).
French rhymes generally fall into the following four categories:
Unique to the French language is a rhyme called a Holorime, popularized by author Alphonse Allias. Project Gutenberg has many free downloadable books by Monsieur Allias on its website.
Classical French poetry often puzzles students, who expect to easily identify the rhyme pattern as rich, suffissante, or other common rhymes. Word pronunciation changes over time. During the Middle Ages, for example, the silent “e,” so common in the French language, was actually pronounced. This added extra vowel sound to the rhyming patterns explains why older French poetry sometimes seems awkward to the modern student only familiar with today’s pronunciation.
Words ending with a silent “e” in older French poetry are called feminine rhymes, while words with the final “e” pronounced are considered masculine rhymes. Common rhyming patterns include alternating masculine and feminine rhymes through a poem. Playwrights in the seventeenth century used this technique in plays written in verse.
If you’re seeking an online French rhyming dictionary, here are free online versions.
French language teachers find the following lesson plans bring out the creative best in their students:
Try each with your class to encourage them to understand the differences between French and English rhymes and the subtle, beautiful nuances of the French language.
Other resources to learn French rhymes include Web sites providing a comprehensive overview of French verse. For example, Practical Advice for Students of French includes an easy-to-understand explanation of all the components of French verse.
Easy ways to introduce students to French rhymes include using children’s books and nursery rhymes students are familiar with in their native language. Online sources for printed and recorded French nursery rhymes include Mama Lisa’s Word. This site features very easy to use children’s songs and poems that most students should know as well as French and English translations with many audio files.